Feature Volunteer: Bernie Fiedler Goes from ‘Country Boy’ to Seasoned Classroom Leader
In front of a diverse classroom of street smart kids in Franklin, self-professed “country boy” Bernie Fielder felt like “fresh meat.” He was also about to experience one of the most fun, lively and rewarding moments in his nearly 10 years of teaching teens about money.
“They were rowdy at first, had a bit of ‘what’s in this for me?’ at the start of the class. Once we got over that and I had their attention, I will tell you, I had more fun in that class than I could have ever imagined,” Bernie said.
Bernie, 66, fondly recalls that class in Franklin, his first of many as a financial literacy volunteer through Make A Difference – Wisconsin. He was raised in North Dakota and cut his professional teeth in Oklahoma and Nebraska – “let’s just say when I moved near Waukesha, I was still impressed with buildings higher than 10 stories,” Fiedler joked. With his financial planning career taking hold at Prairie Financial Group and Waukesha State Bank, Bernie reached out and joined as a volunteer in our early years as a nonprofit.
He said he was seeking a different perspective, and he definitely got it with the “vocal but practical” first group of students at Franklin. Although the students had a different background and upbringing than his own rural roots, Bernie said they made a connection in a matter of a few classes. As his first session with those students came to a close, he shared a life lesson and they offered their appreciation.
“On the last day, I put one dollar bills in front of each of them. You would have thought I put a snake in front of them. They were quiet, none of them touching the money. Finally, I looked around and asked why they thought I put the money in front of them. There were wisecracks, of course, but then I said, ‘That’s yours because you did the most important first thing: you showed up’”, Bernie remembered. “Weeks later, the kids put together a care package for me, with a school T-shirt, paper portfolio, pens with their mascot on it.”
Since the beginning years of our nonprofit, Bernie has led nearly four-dozen groups of students, and has been a particularly reliable volunteer in our push west of Milwaukee to high schools in Franklin and Waukesha. But it’s at Kettle Moraine High School where he’s made his biggest impact, in a family sort of way.
Bernie lives in Waukesha County near Kettle Moraine with Margaret, his wife of 45 years and a former music educator at the high school, and his nonagenarian parents, Arnold and Erdina, who was the first female superintendent of schools in the state of North Dakota. Of Bernie and Margaret’s three children, two are educators, one of whom works at K.M. with her husband. It’s no surprise that Bernie often opts to volunteer in the familiar hallways at Kettle Moraine.
“It’s a family affair when I show up” at Kettle Moraine, Bernie said. “They all remember my wife, they know my son-in-law as the volleyball coach.”
He’s also built a strong relationship – and friendship – with Kettle Moraine educator Chris LeDuc. Chris is a business education instructor at the high school and said Bernie’s “authentic and passionate” attitude about financial literacy resonates with his students. On the side, Bernie and Chris have become friends, going out together with their wives and sharing in other community building interests, like Chris’s wife’s organization, Opportunities, Inc.